The leopard is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera; the other three being the tiger, lion and jaguar. Once distributed across southern Asia and Africa, from Korea to South Africa, the leopard's range of distribution has decreased radically due to hunting and loss of habitat, and the leopard now chiefly occurs in sub-Saharan Africa. There are fragmented populations in Pakistan, India, Indochina, Malaysia, and China. Due to the loss of range and declines in population, it is graded as a "Near Threatened" species. Its numbers are greater than other Panthera species, all of which face more acute conservation concerns.

The leopard has relatively short legs and a long body, with a large skull. It resembles the jaguar, although it is smaller and of slighter build. Its fur is marked with rosettes which lack internal spots, unlike those of the jaguar. Leopards that are melanistic, either completely black or very dark, are one of the big cats known as black panthers.

The species' success in the wild owes in part to its opportunistic hunting behaviour, its adaptability to habitats and its ability to move at up to approximately 58 kilometres (36 miles) an hour. The leopard consumes virtually any animal it can hunt down and catch. Its preferred habitat ranges from rainforest to desert terrains. Its ecological role is similar to the American cougar.


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